In an exclusive Q&A, the co-founders of the American Freedom Foundation discuss the mutual benefits of veteran hiring initiatives.
If Robin himself – Chris O’Donnell – can’t convince you of the benefits of hiring military veterans, take it from those who’ve experienced it firsthand: CareerBuilder’s Director of Federal Civilian Solutions, Jen Fritz, recently sat down with SMA Jack Tilly (far right in the above photo from the 2011 American Freedom Festival) and Ted Hacker, co-founders of the American Freedom Foundation, to discuss everything from the unique value in hiring veterans to helping veterans make an easier transition to the civilian workforce.
Listen to the recorded interview with AFF’s co-founders here or read highlights in the Q&A below.
Jen Fritz: What inspired you to start the American Freedom Foundation?
Ted Hacker: When sergeant major Tilley was on active duty, he conducted what we call ‘The Hope and Freedom Tours’ of Iraq and Afghanistan, taking entertainers from all genres of music to perform for our troops. I was fortunate enough to go along once, and it changed my life. When we came back, sergeant major Tilley was looking for something to do to carry on the work he’d been doing in the army, so together we came up with an idea to continue to do concerts and shows for our military to support them, their families, our veterans and our wounded warriors.
SMA Tilley: Yes, I remember the conversation. I called Ted up on the phone and said, “I want to help our veterans,” and Ted jumped right in. We’ve been doing it now for eight years.
What do you hope people in the Foundation take away?
Tilley: I hope they take away the fact that veterans bring so much to the job market. I hope they understand the loyalty of veterans, and the commitment they have for our country. Right now, more than probably at any other time in our country’s history, our veterans and their families need help.
I think that’s a really good point. Could you talk more about the benefits organizations get from hiring veterans?
Tilley: Just think about it: people spend so much money training someone on leadership, but when you get a veteran, [you already get] the leadership they have, the commitment, the loyalty they have to the organization, the work ethic. And they’re all team players. You don’t have to train them as far as taking responsibility or completing the task. They’ve already been trained well in the military. Those are the kind of skills that are going to make your organization that much better.
Hacker: There are so many qualities and traits veterans have from their service in the military that are very attractive to a potential employer.
Yes, they’ve got focus, discipline and leadership, and they’re clearly capable of making quick decisions, all of which help organizations move quickly.
Tilley: One of the neatest things I’ve ever observed was once when a unit in Iraq was having a riot, and there was a unit of infantry men in front of them, and the sergeant in charge there had the presence of mind to tell them to sling their weapons and kneel on one leg, and they stopped the rioting. They probably saved a lot of people from getting hurt. This sergeant was only 22 years old, and yet he had the presence of mind to take control of the situation and do the right thing. When you look at the army and all the services combined, the number of techniques and tactics they can bring into the civilian workforce are just unbelievable.
That’s along the lines of what you were saying earlier about the amount of money corporations put into employee training and development. Think about the amount of money that has already been invested in these veterans before they even show up at the company’s door.
Tilley: The other thing to think about is how veterans can help you develop other employees within your organization. I’ve had employers ask veterans to come in and give leadership, communication or counseling classes. It’s really a win-win situation for any employer.
Hacker: I want to emphasize the earlier point about acting cool under pressure and being able to handle crisis management. These are very strong characteristics veterans can offer potential employers. Veterans are ready to go: They’re ready to act under pressure, and they’re ready to lead. I’ve witnessed it over my years of working here with veterans on multiple levels.
I agree 100 percent. The veterans in this office certainly make everyone take it up a notch. Switching gears, what are some of the challenges veterans face upon re-entering the civilian workforce?
Tilley: One of the biggest problems veterans have is just trying to fit in – that transition. There’ve been 6,000 veterans killed in this war, 41,000 wounded, 1200 amputees, and one in five have some form of PTSD or PTI, so the problem normally is, how do they adjust into the civilian sector? The other problem is that sometimes they wait just a little too long to make that transition into that civilian sector. So we need to educate corporate America on how they help veterans adjust to the civilian sector as well as what they should be aware of. One thing we point out is they have to adjust their workplaces to accommodate veterans who are wounded or have special needs. If they can do that, they’ll see the value of hiring a vet even more.
What are some other ways private employers can make that transition easier?
Tilley: Private employers should take it upon themselves to introduce themselves to the local military installation and educate themselves and find out what goes on at that military installation. They could also contact the Department of Defense or the National Guard and ask how they can assist in helping people make that transition.
A lot of companies have voiced an interest in hiring veterans, but they’re not quite sure how to get off the ground. Are there particular areas or industries that speak better to veterans’ skills?
Tilley: I think veterans who move into smaller businesses have a little bit of an easier transition. Also, I think the IT industry is good, as well as health care and operational things like management engineering.
Hacker: Here’s something else to keep in mind: 86 percent of the force is enlisted for all services, and 14 percent is comprised of officers and warrant officers. Sometimes the focus is more on officers’ employment, but the enlisted force has changed a lot over the years as far as education and development. Many of our non-commissioned officers and soldiers have bachelor’s and master’s degrees and, in some cases, doctorates. Education-wise, there’s a lot of opportunity for enlisted soldiers as far as any position you need filled in your organization.
That’s a good point. It’s important for employers to understand that “enlisted” has a different connotation now than it had in the past.
Tilley: Exactly. For the last 10 or 15 years, there’s been a tremendous focus on education in all services.
Any final thoughts?
Tilley: If you haven’t talked to a veteran, it’s so important to reach out and find out how veterans can make your organization that much better and that much more efficient.
Hacker: Veteran hiring has become such a big issue. I think the more it comes out how much hiring veterans benefits the company, the more we’re going to see companies taking action. Corporate America is stepping up. I think we’re in a groundswell of activity right now that we can take advantage of to really vet out veterans and help them find jobs.
Listen to the complete CareerBuilder interview with AFF’s Tilley and Hacker here.
Do you have an experience with hiring veterans that you’d like to share? Tell us how military veterans benefit your organization in the comments below.Related
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